Several weeks back, speculation rose about the possibility for Amazon’s following in the footsteps of Apple with a Siri-like product of their own for the Kindle Fire. Siri, for those who aren’t aware, is a virtual digital assistant for the iPhone. It allows users to conversationally ask questions and make requests that the software will try to accommodate. For the most part it does an impressive job and when Siri can’t cope it will come up with a variety of witty or whimsical responses tailored to the user input.
The cause for speculation with regard to Amazon stems from their acquisition of Yap, a voice to text company whose specialty is transcribing voicemail. While Amazon wasn’t mentioned by name in the acquisition, the company that Yap merged with lists its headquarters at an Amazon building. There are a few reasons to make a move like this, of course, but it is fairly clear that the idea of copying Apple’s efforts was not one of them.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that Yap is absolutely nothing like Siri. Yes they both involve accurately pulling information out of the spoken word, but that is as far as it goes. Siri is an attempt at artificial intelligence that will try to understand user intent by pulling key words and phrases out of what it hears. Yap’s specialty is simply putting words on “paper”, so to speak, in a cheap and fast manner. Cloud computing is Amazon’s new big thing, of course, so the fact that Yap does its work mechanically on the cloud servers also fits in well with their philosophy.
What this could be a precursor to is an Kindle Fire type of smartphone. While Amazon has not yet announced any official plans to add such a device to their growing selection of hardware, it’s a possibility. The Yap software would be helpful for both its original voicemail applications as well as for voice commands, in this case. The voice command idea in general would likely go over well on future Kindle Tablets, but since the only mic we’ve seen in a Kindle has been the disabled one inside every Kindle 3 it might actually be a bit surprising. There is also the chance that this was simply a matter of acquiring Intellectual Property to guard against lawsuits and license to other companies.
Quite possibly my favorite potential use for this would be on demand transcription of audio files. This would come in handy for practically anybody who regularly needs to deal with presentations or meetings, especially in business environments that require fast turnaround on their reference material. That might be a long shot, though.
Regardless of how Amazon decides to actually make use of the Yap acquisition, there’s just no chance it will be as a Siri clone. The Kindle Fire is great at what it does, but it lacks the hardware to make a Siri possible. Even if that hardware were present, the speech to text component of such a feature would be only a small part of a huge endeavor. It would be great to have that kind of capability, but it’s overoptimistic for the foreseeable future.